Written by Vishal Menon | New Delhi | Published: November 12, 2018 5:03:04 am
As a junior, Ishant Sharma would change buses and jostle for space in cramped auto-rickshaws to travel from his home in West Patel Nagar to the Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium. These days, he prefers to drive to the venue whenever he is playing for Delhi in first-class cricket. Over the years, as Ishant has gone from strength to strength to cement his spot in the Indian Test team, his visits to the Kotla have become sporadic. So, there was perceptible buzz when he arrived on the eve of Delhi’s Ranji opener against Himachal Pradesh. A bevy of U-19 cricketers made a beeline below the team’s dressing-room. The man in the spotlight, however, continued training with the usual gusto. But he did stop to exchange pleasantries with his juniors, before slipping into his swanky SUV to drive out of the Kotla.
Ishant will be using these first-class games as a pit-stop to earn some much-needed practice ahead of India’s upcoming Test series against Australia next month. At the moment, it’s not clear as to how many matches he will play. But the Delhi team management is hoping to have him for their first two games at least — against Himachal, followed by their away game against Hyderabad that begins on November 20.
In recent times, India have the most varied and potent arsenal of fast bowlers of which Ishant is an integral part of. Even though he finds himself out of the limited overs squad for close to three years, it’s in the longer format where he has prospered. Consequently, he has gone on to become Virat Kohli’s go-to bowler in several marquee overseas tours. Even though some of his younger team-mates such as Umesh Yadav and Mohammad Shami are more equipped to find swing on benign surfaces, Ishant, the 87-Test veteran, thrives due to the discipline he showcases with his lines and lengths. Even though, he is labelled as being a tad too defensive, he keeps getting out top-order batsmen. All these traits were on display during India’s ill-fated Test series against England earlier in the summer, when he ended up as the highest wicket-taker, with 18 scalps from five matches.
At the outset, Ishant’s experience will give Delhi a headstart, even though he will be available for only the two opening Ranji games. More so, in the absence of the talented Navdeep Saini, who is currently in New Zealand with India A. Ishant will once again take on the mantle of leading a bunch of rookie pacers like Kulwant Khejroliya and Simranjeet Singh. Ishant showed fleeting glimpses of how unsettling he can get, when he accounted for 20 wickets from four games in the last Ranji season. Delhi’s newly appointed captain Nitish Rana concurs: “Some of our young fast bowlers have benefited from having Ishant bhai playing with us in the last season. Even Saini, who is currently the best bowler in domestic circuit, has learnt from bowling alongside him.”